Humphreys pledges to remove any barriers in way of rural broadband
Published 02/06/2016 | 02:30
Obstacles such as planning rules and development levies that could delay the rollout of broadband will be removed in the short term, Rural Development Minister Heather Humphreys has pledged.
The minister wants to pre-empt any "barriers" to the National Broadband Plan in advance of a contract being signed with a provider of services in 2017.
The Irish Independent has learned that Ms Humphreys recently held a series of meetings with Communications Minister Denis Naughten to discuss the division of the workload.
There was significant confusion after the formation of Government as to which minister would be responsible for broadband.
But Ms Humphreys said: "While the Department of Communications will continue to manage the tendering process and the awarding of the contract, there is plenty of work I can do in the meantime to help with the rollout."
She said the delivery of broadband to every home in rural Ireland is "one of the most important elements of my new portfolio".
"I will be working with local authorities and setting up regional broadband taskforces, to remove any barriers to broadband rollout.
"That could include issues such as planning, ducting, development levies and road openings," Ms Humphreys told the Irish Independent.
Her plan is to address these issues now "so there are no delays when the broadband contract is signed next year".
She will meet with the County and City Management Association in the coming weeks to begin work on a standardised approach for local authorities.
"We'll also look at setting up Digital Enterprise Hubs, so local businesses can have access to high-speed broadband while the rollout is taking place.
"This is all about eliminating delays, because I know people in rural Ireland feel they have waited long enough for high- speed broadband," she said.
"The scale of the challenge we are facing cannot be underestimated.
"We know that about 750,000 people are living in broadband blackspots, which are in need of State intervention.
"Farmers are being disproportionately affected; in fact, the vast majority of farmers are living and working in areas with inadequate broadband coverage."
The minister said that tackling the rollout of broadband will be "a central plank" in her department's overall plan to revitalise rural Ireland.